Arthur Herman: The FDR Lesson Obama Should FollowRoundup: Talking About History
Mr. Herman is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. His newest book, Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, was published this week by Random House.
If President Obama still wants to turn our economy around, it's time for him to act more like Franklin Roosevelt—but not in the way he might think. It takes a special kind of courage for a president to abandon a failed approach to economic policy and then embrace its opposite. Yet, faced in May 1940 with America's greatest foreign policy crisis since the nation's founding, that's exactly what Franklin D. Roosevelt did. FDR—architect of the New Deal and outspoken opponent of Big Business—was forced by the collapse of Europe's democracies under Hitler's blitzkrieg to turn to the corporate sector to prepare America for war.
Roosevelt had almost no choice. In 1940, the United States had the 18th-largest army in the world, right behind tiny Holland. While not so small, its Navy was totally unprepared to face a determined invader. Gen. George Marshall, Army chief of staff, warned Roosevelt that if Hitler landed five divisions on American soil, there was nothing he could do to stop them.
Neither the War nor Navy Departments had a clue how to mobilize a $100-billion civilian economy for war. Their joint "plan" ran to fewer than 20 typed pages. America's defense industry had been dismantled after World War I—"the war to end all wars."
So, reluctantly, on May 28, 1940, Roosevelt picked up the phone and called his archnemesis, General Motors President William Knudsen...
comments powered by Disqus
- Miami’s Watergate mystery man at heart of newly revealed CIA report
- The Anthropocene epoch: scientists declare dawn of human-influenced age
- ‘No Vacancies’ for Blacks: How Donald Trump Got His Start, and Was First Accused of Bias
- New Yorker profiles activist who's drawing attention to lynchings
- Wisconsin GOP senator wants to replace history professors with Ken Burns videos
- OAH President Nancy Cott says the Library of Congress is being politicized
- NYT publishes historians' plea for the revival of political history
- Some Ohio University professors ditch the textbooks, and the prices
- Renowned Israeli Holocaust Historian: ‘If I Were a British Jew, I’d Be Worried’
- Heather Ann Thompson pries loose the long-kept secrets of Attica in her new book